Friday, April 8, 2011

Utah Birder Profile: Robert Williams

Robert Williams
Provo, Utah
How did you get into birding? Did you or do you have a birding mentor and can you tell us about that person? Did you have a “spark bird”?

My older brother Chris Williams got me into birding. My first birding trip was with Chris; we went to Heber Valley and saw a pair of Whooping Cranes. I thought it was cool and started to tag along with him. For me there has not been one “spark bird” but many--my first Red Cross-bill in Flagstaff Arizona, a White Crowned Pigeon, Jamaican Crow and Jamaican Tody in Jamaica, the Violet Crowned Humming Bird at the Patten’s Yard in Patagonia Arizona, and many more.

How long have you been birding?

I have been birding for about 10 years but, I have only been a bird addict for about 5 or 6 years.

How often do you go birding? And where do you regularly go birding?

If life permits (and if it doesn't) I go birding 3-5 times a week. My favorite spots are the Provo airport dike, Kunie Wetlands, and the Benjamin slough/Lincoln beach area.

Where is your favorite place to bird in Utah? In the U.S.? in the world?

Some of my favorite places in the state are Lytles Ranch, Zions National Park, and the Moab Area. My favorite place out of state would have to be Ruby Valley, Nevada; I spent a weekend there last May and found 121 species in two days; it is an amazing place!

Where in your state/province would you say is the most under-birded place that may have great untapped potential? 

I think there are some great places in the four corners area, I am sure there are many missed rarities that are just never found.

How would you describe yourself as a birder? A “watcher”, a “lister”, a “chaser”, “ticker”, “twitcher” all of the above, or something else? 

I like to think that my birding addiction is a result of the awesomeness of birds and nature, and so would probably leave off "ticker." When I see a cool bird I like to get a few good looks and some pictures if I can. All the other names would probably fit pretty well.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

Up until two weeks ago I used a Subaru Legacy, (about 90% of the miles I put on that car were for birding) sadly it died I now use a bike or skateboard to go birding. I have Nikon monarch binoculars, a promaster scope and a Canon 7d with a 300mm lens.

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

I love to use eBird -- it's easy, benefits all, and is a great resource for finding new birds!

What is your favorite bird sighting and what is the story behind it? 

It is hard to narrow that down to just one so I picked the top two.

Last summer I was in the Uintas looking for ptarmigans with my little sister. It was not a good day for ptarmigan searching; there was a heavy fog so visibility was pretty low. After wandering around for quite a while and getting quite cold we caught wind of the day's first birds; a small flock of american pipits flew in and flew out, and right after they left the day got really good! About 100 small black birds landed 20-30 yards from us, this was my first great look at black rosy finches.  Conditions did not permit great photos but my sister and I got great look for about an hour. The combination of being high in the mountains, in the clouds, and having such a close experience with such beautiful and amazing birds was an unforgetable experience.

The second was the violet crowned humming bird in Patagonia, Arizona, I think that this little bird is perhaps the most amazing one I have ever seen. I spent a week down in Arizona and found about 30 lifers last August, but the violet crowned humming bird was without a doubt the most memorable.

What is your favorite backyard bird? Any good backyard birding stories or amazing backyard bird sightings you can share?

My parents live in downtown Provo and we don't really have a yard, nonetheless the yard has had some very cool birds. Every fall we have 6-8 Rufous Hummingbirds take over the feeders for a few weeks, a few years ago we had Nighthawks sleep on our phone line ever afternoon, and we have had barn swallows bug catching for hours, and we even had a Western Wood Pewee for a few days!

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

I love the Sibley field guide, the drawings are unmatched! I also have a Peterson, Nat Geo, and several other more specific guides.

Which three books from your personal birding library would you recommend to other birders?

The Sibley Field guide, The Snoring Bird (not really a bird book, it's a biography on this guy who was a collector in the early 1900s, a little slow but a great read!) Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior

Do you have any formal bird-related education background? If so, what is it?

I took the ornithology class at BYU and will eventually be doing a masters and doctorate work in ornithology.

If a fellow birder had a question about a bird, do you consider yourself an expert (or at least proficient) on any specific family of birds?

I refer to my field guides a lot but I know the field marks for most of the birds that you would see around Utah. I don't know if I am more knowledgeable in one family than another but if I had to choose one that I thought I knew the best it would likely be sparrows.

What future birding plans do you have?

Maybe when I am old I will die while birding.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations? If so, which ones? 

I am starting to get involved with the Utah County Bird Club but for the most part I bird alone.

What is your nemesis bird?

The Gray Jay

Any birding related pet-peeves you’d like to vent about here?

I have one huge pet peeve; it seems that for the first few months of the year, every time someone sees me with my binoculars they will say "looking for Bald Eagles?" I think bald eagles are cool and all but I have never gone out looking for bald eagles, and when I try to tell them I am looking for a rare sparrow they just nod and keep walking. There are more birds out there than bald eagles, and I would rank many of our sparrow sized birds much higher on a one to ten scale than I would a bald eagle!

Outside of birding, what are your other interests or hobbies?

I love photography; before I was a birder I was outside almost as much as I am now just looking for good pictures rather than good birds. I also love rock climbing, camping, and reading.

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

I hope I am not alone when I relate stories of trying to ID a plastic bag through my scope for more than 20 minutes, getting pooped on while trying to get good looks, and getting weird looks from cute girls while spishing at the bushes between classes. My girlfriend got me a great bumper sticker a few months ago "I'm not drunk I'm bird watching"

If you were a bird, which species would you be and why? 

I would be an American Avocet! The avocet is a truly amazing bird, the recurved bill the striking contrast of fiery orange, black, and white. Who doesn't want to winter in California? and how great would it be to play in the mud all day!

Total life list?    400

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?     Jamaica

Your mission in life as birder?   photograph 700 species in the US

Birder Profile is a regular blog segment at "Birding is Fun!" spotlighting a fellow birder.  If you are interested in sharing a little about yourself and your birding experiences, please send me an email.  Is there a birder you'd like to see featured?  Please nominate that person by sending me an e-mail too.  Enthusiasm for birding is the only prerequisite!

1 comment:

  1. Do you remember when we saw all those bohemian waxwings? You got some great photos that day.